Shell Chords

Shell chords are a “simpler” way to play 7th chords (all families, maj7, dom7, min7 etc…). To obtain a shell chord we cut the “fat” by omitting the 5th degree of the chord. So you retain only the root, third and seventh degree of the chord.

Why are we omitting the 5th degree? By doing so we make the sound of the chord less bottom heavy AND you economize on fingers (you only have 5 fingers from which you use only 4 most of the time ). Fingers that you can use for more interesting notes, like a 9th, 11th or 13th later on. (video bottom of the page)

Not only are shell chords easier to play (then full chords and bar chords) and very jazzy sounding, but by practicing them, and playing songs with them you get a clearer insight in the harmony of that song. A lot of chord voicings that you probably already know are played with voicing derived from shell chords (especially dominant chords in blues and soul/ funk).

For starters play (and try to memorize) the following shell chord voicing. They are all built on the root C. Try to play/ hit only the fretted strings/ notes. The inner side of your left hand can also help to block out unwanted strings.

You may also notice that there is no shell chord for the Cm7b5 chord. That is correct. Since there is no 5th in a shell chord one can use a Cm7 shell chord instead…

We will only cover shell chords with roots on the 6th and 5th string since they are used the most.

Oh, and this is REALLY IMPORTANT: shell chords are “movable chords”. This means that by moving them up or down the neck you can play *ANY* Xmaj7, X7, Xm7 chord once you can play these.

Also: carefully observe the fingerings!

1. Shell Chords with the root on the E (6th) string, from low to high root, seventh, third.

We will call this “form one” from now on (for reference in future lessons).

Shell_Chords Root E String

2. Shell Chords with the root on the A (5th) string, from low to high: root, third, seventh:

Let’s call these “form 2” from now on.

Shell_Chords Root A String 2You can see and hear the movement of each voice clearly when just playing these through since the chords are stripped to the bare essentials.

Again: learn these by heart, strum the chord and say the name out loud. in a next lesson you will learn to use these in a song.

Here is a video of this lesson:

Once you are familiar with playing these, head over to the next lesson: play sunny with shell chords.